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"Handicaps" for Conversationalists

Tonight my sleeping pill will be the movie "Seabiscuit." The reader may have seen the movie. If not, I highly recommend it. 

Now, I'm not one of those bookish types who thinks that movies based on a book are supposed to be identical to the book. But after the movie I read the book, and appreciated the importance of handicaps to the sport of horse racing. (The movie made Seabiscuit into a Rocky-for-horses.)

Golf tournaments use handicaps, don't they? The NFL draft has the same function as handicapping. But in fact, handicapping could be used in more than just sports. It could be used in just about any endeavor in which unequal "contestants" would produce a dull contest. 

Conversation could be seen as a sport that uses handicaps. That is what I am discovering as a campground host. I have better luck than I normally do in face-to-face conversation with strangers. 

But I won't kid myself. It is not because I have suddenly become charming. Rather, it is because I am "cheating." My pseudo-uniform and hat make me a weak form of authority figure. In addition, people feel safe talking to a campground host the same way they warm up to the host of a party.

But this doesn't bother me. I need the handicapping in order to have a close match with the other contestant. It needs to be "close" in order to make and observe incremental improvements. Otherwise I will keep committing the same verbal faux pas the rest of my life. 

I'm not sure how the reader or I could apply this principle to more things in life. But I'd like to.


XXXXX said…
I've been thinking about this all day yesterday.
It seems to me that "conversation" is an integral part of "relationship," however one might define or experience the latter.
We have a relationship with everyone we come in contact with. It doesn't even require can be two people who happen to glance at each other at the same time and each knows it. There is still something communicated in that glance.
So conversation surely is a part of communication and relationships take many forms...some more personal than others.
Remember the famous line in "You've got Mail" when Tom Hanks tries to tell Meg Ryan that destroying her business was just business; it wasn't personal. And she says "It's personal" and he finally gets it.
What I really want to say here is that we're all handicapped, really, when it comes to relationships, no matter what form they may take.
To approach any conversation with this thought, that I am handicapped in my own way and you are handicapped in your own way, and a great deal of that handicap is either unknown or beyond our ability to change about ourselves, we couldn't help but create better relationships with each other, no matter what sort of relationship we are talking about.
I would imagine one component of the way you talk as a camp host is a sort of consideration and respect for the paying client for your task is to see to their needs. The client may be a jerk but you're going to handle it with tact and seek amiable ways to solve issues.
Would that we do this with all our relationships but instead we have a way of pushing ourselves on the other in an attempt to get the relationship more to our liking.
Don't know if any of this has anything to do with your experience but these are the thoughts that occurred to me.
"... a sort of consideration and respect for the paying client for your task is to see to their needs..." Maybe that is the magic. I am thinking about their needs, and forgetting about myself, and am even making a sport out of it.

Outside of campground hosting, I tend to see conversations as something I am supposed to win because of better ideas and more knowledge about the topic. As good ol' Benjamin Franklin said in his autobiography, "... and indeed you might win the argument, but you won't win the other person's good will, which would do you more good."
Anonymous said…
Oh so true! I love chatting with folks. I'm inquisitive, trying not to get too personal, but really interested in folks's life stories/experiences. That said, have you ever noticed in these types of conversations how little interest people have in you, the inquisitor? Sometimes you can talk for hours and you never get so much as a "where ya frum"?.

Chris, I too try to avoid getting too personal with guests.

That's OK if they have little interest in me. I would rather have them focus on the land, their activity, or the human condition. In fact if they were interested in me, I would just get evasive. I have an old-fashioned notion that a gentleman does not ask questions that are personal or too direct.
Anonymous said…
" I have an old-fashioned notion that a gentleman does not ask questions that are personal or too direct."

Those questions come with true friendships.

XXXXX said…
"true friendships"

I had an aunt once, long since gone, who was not related through blood but through marriage. My uncle died first and I looked after her. She did not like to talk about things that were uncomfortable for her, which was a lot actually. She liked to laugh and be happy.
So I avoided any such conversation with her for I looked at my role as supporting her in view of the many losses of her life and I respected her age and what I considered her lack of education and the narrowness of her life. She was too old to grow.

I considered myself a true friend.

But there were no personal questions.